Can Popular Music Exist without an Accompanying Visual Representation?
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Duhamel (1931, p. 124) wrote, “I can no longer think what I want to think. My thoughts have been replaced by moving images.” This quote refers to the issue of visual representation. This essay will address the question of whether or not popular music can exist without an accompanying visual representation.
First of all, it is important to discuss popular music itself, its nature, and its role in the modern world. In other words, what is popular music and why is it there? Essentially, popular music is the kind of music that is distributed to wide audiences through the music industry. It is different from classical music, which requires a higher level of formal training and education. Also, classical music can be regarded as more complicated, which is why it can be appreciated by smaller audiences. Popular music is considered simpler, as it is produced to appeal to broader groups of people (Shuker 2016).
Therefore, popular music is, in a sense, less sophisticated and does not imply outstanding achievements in terms of musical art or innovative techniques of making and performing music. In most cases, popular songs sound the best when recorded in studios, while classical compositions are always appreciated more when played live (Doğantan-Dack 2012). From this perspective, it is evident that, for popular music, visual representation in the form of video clips is just another channel that helps deliver the product to wider audiences. When a recording artist releases an album, he or she should think about the best way to distribute it, and one of the ways to reach more people is to produce a music video that can be uploaded online and shown on musical television channels. Therefore, from the industry, visual representation is important in popular music because it helps artists promote their work.
Second, the role of visual representation in music overall should be discussed. The previously made conclusion that visual representation assists in the promotion of musical industry products do not answer the question of whether or not visual representation is essential to music. To address the question, it is needed to explore the connection between music and visual representation. Music is a sort of a universal language: it is capable of provoking an emotional response in human beings across cultures regardless of their race, gender, and native language (Higgins 2012). When listening to music, a person may picture something and develop a trail of thought along with experiencing particular emotions. Some people even have explicit color perceptions when listening to music (Zamm et al. 2013).
However, when a person has suggested some forms of visual representation, i.e. something to look at while listening to music, his or her imagination, thoughts, and emotions are somewhat suppressed. I think that anyone should choose: if you want to enjoy your perception of a song, listen to it with no visual representation and possibly with your eyes closed, but if you want to see some images that the author accompanied his or her work with, you can turn on a video and watch it. It is important to understand that visual representation is an additional outlet for musicians’ creativity. Sometimes, visual representation is just as important and potentially enjoyable as the music itself. The reason for it is that both music and visuals appeal to human emotional perception as opposed to written content that appeals to intellectual perception (Lester 2013). However, their appeals are different. Visuals add certain nuances to the perception of music, which is why watching a video clip while listening to music can provoke a stronger and more comprehensive emotional response.
Finally, answering the question in the title requires a historical perspective. Popular music is a 20th-century phenomenon: only with the appearance of mass communication channels and the recording industry popular music became possible. However, the music itself has existed for the entire history of humankind (Bunt & Stige 2014). Although there were musical performances of different ages, people at all times would gather to simply play the instruments and sing songs. No visual representation was necessary. Besides, music is the kind of art that requires the least from a person to be performed. To draw something or write a poem, one needs tools, e.g. a piece of coal. Music essentially requires no tools because one can create a beat or a rhythm by simply knocking on a surface with a hand. That is why it can be speculated that music is the oldest kind of art. It existed before accompanying it with visual representation became available. This fact signifies that music can exist without visuals. So can today’s popular music because visual representation is not an essential element of it, i.e. not an element the absence of which rules out the possibility for popular music to exist.
It has been discussed that visual representation is important for popular music because it is important for the industry and promotion and because it can deliver additional impressions and feelings to a listener. However, it has also been demonstrated that music is an ancient art that people have always been able to enjoy even before visual representation became possible. Therefore, it can be concluded that popular music can exist without a visual representation.
Bunt, L & Stige, B 2014, Music therapy: an art beyond words, Routledge, Abingdon-on-Thames.
Doğantan-Dack, M 2012, ‘The art of research in live music performance’, Music Performance Research, vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 34-48.
Duhamel, G 1931, America: the menace: scenes from the life of the future, Houghton Mifflin Co, Dublin.
Higgins, KM 2012, The music between us: is music a universal language? University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Lester, PM 2013, Visual communication: images with messages, Cengage Learning, Boston.
Shuker, R 2016, Understanding popular music culture, Routledge, Abingdon-on-Thames.
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Zamm, A, Schlaug, G, Eagleman, DM & Loui, P 2013, ‘Pathways to seeing music: enhanced structural connectivity in colored-music synesthesia’, Neuroimage, vol. 74, no. 1, pp. 359-366.